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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ten minutes in Monte Carlo

Taking time away from my duties isn't necessarily verboten, but it ain't really the kind of thing a worker bee should be doing on a regular basis. But, with one 17-hour day behind me and another in progress, I thought a few minutes to set the scene was warranted.

I sit in a giant mirrored room with a constelllation ceiling and a purple, underlit dance floor. The Monte Carlo skyline shines through the floor to ceiling two-story windows. Thirty yards from me, a group of ten people are negotiating the start of a $25,000 game in which one of them stands to win about $150,000 for a couple hours work. The room is a mix of French perfume, poker players' body odor, beer, and tension. It's nearly midnight, a good four hours before players will call it quits for the night. The bulk of the people here are competing for a first prize that will eclipse $2 million American. Players range in age from 18 to near 80. Occasinally, a poker wife will push a pram through, a newborn cooing along with the hum of the crowd. Big-busted massage therapists dig into the taut muscles of road-weary players. In this room are people who gamble for $100 at a pop and guys who I have seen with a quarter million in real money chips in front of them at any given time.

Sometimes, in the middle of $25 cheeseburgers, $30 beers, and $35 scrambled eggs and bacon, it's easy to lose sigh of reality. I've fared pretty well so far this trip, hiding in my room when not working, staying sober, and trying to eat best I can. Still, it's a life that can suck you in fast. I should know. I've been sucked in and spit out more times than I can count.

The good thing is, there are a lot of good people and good friends around. Most of them are working harder than they are playing and that usually is a good indication of a person's life ethic. Among those friends is my buddy Pauly. He's running the show over at a poker news site and doing a bang-up job, despite an arm that won't stop hurting (I suggested he start pleasuring himself with the left...hear it feels like a stranger) and a newfound distaste for the extravagance. Over the many months we've spent on the road, I have taken many pictures of the guy. Never, and I mean never, does he fail to put something between him and the lens. And it's always the same thing. I may start calling him Birdman. Or Pauly Fingers.

Note: I avoided the squid and tomatoes at dinner and I'm glad I did.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Coca Light...Really light

The Europeans just don't cotton to America's Big Gulp mentality.

I've written a great deal about my travel over the years, but I, either for fear of seeming much-too American or far-too-less worldly, have not mentioned this cultural difference. It's impossible to get a decent-sized soda over here.

I'll admit, I'm a soda drinker. Diet Coke usually. When morning comes, I usually cast aside offers of coffee and grab a can or six of aspartame goodness. It's not good for my teeth. It's not really good for anything. But it's what I do and I don't see myself stopping any time soon. I like a cup of coffee after a big meal or on a cold morning, but in the middle of summer, give me caffeine in a can, man. In fact, I just had a fond memory of my buddy Cappy turning to me out of nowhere in college and saying, "Big soda?" And off we'd go to Sonic for a Route 44.

And so it happens that I again find myself in Europe. I'm usually tired and working late hours. Whether it's to keep me up burning some midnight oil or get me up and get me back into the fray, I go in search of Diet Coke. Of course, here, Diet Coke is Coca Cola Light--Coca Light for short. I'm always left wanting.

The print on the bottle is so small, I can't read how much Coke I'm getting, but if memory serves, the bottle is about eight ounces. For reference, here's my little Motorola flip phone (which has GSM capability and lets me call home for an insane price from Monte Carlo) next to the bottle.

So far this morning, I've had two bottles of it (holy shit, did I just pay $8 a pop for those?). I'm still sleepy. If it weren't for the fact a sea breeze was blowing through my window (and I have to go to work soon), I'd crawl back under the blankets and go to sleep.

I'm not a big defender of the Biggie Fries, Quadruple-Decker Coronary Burgers, or 36 ounce ice cream orgasms, but I can't help but long for a Sonic Route 44 Diet Coke right now.

"Big soda?"


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monte Carlo by way of paranoia

"Daddy, I go with you."

That was the last thing my son said to me as I hopped out of our family-mover and headed for the Delta gate.

"I love you, buddy," was all I could manage before ripping off the band-aid and running away.

With a 3:30pm departure, I knew something was wrong at 3pm when my plane wasn't at the gate. Advice to people who don't like travel hassles: Never fly through Atlanta. A South African agent (she might have been British, but I choose to think otherwise) offered me a few options. I could go home and leave a day later or gamble on making my flight in Atlanta. Thinking back to the goodbye at the gate, I chose to gamble. I didn't want to say goodbye again.

The gamble--at least the one the gate agent suggested--only paid off in a sweat-soaked shirt. My connecting flight was gone-daddy-gone.

There are a few things I can't write about here (at least now) regarding my travel to Monte Carlo. Suffice it to say, I was taking a round-about way to get here. Missing my flight was throwing a huge kink in the kinkiness. If I were to gamble again, the stakes were much higher. Somehow, I turned on a Jedi Mind Trick function at the back of my brain and managed to convince three people to do things they didn't want to do:

1) A stewardess to put my carry-on in a pilot's compartment instead of in the gate-checked luggage compartment

2) A real jerk in 2A to put my backpack under his seat. He was so shocked by the suggestion that he forgot to say no.

3) A re-ticketing agent to send me somewhere that wasn't anywhere near my destination.

"I'd like to go to X," I said.

"I'm not sure if I can, but I'm just going to go ahead and say no," she said.

"You'd rather send me to X, though, right?" I said.

Seconds later: "You land in X at 1:20pm."

The gamble was on and I was bluffing like a sonofabitch.

I calmed down with a beer and some southwestern eggrolls at an airpoprt Chilis while I watched the end of the UNC-Georgetown game. While I wandered the airport, the same scene repeated itself over and over. Every gate I passed seemed to be full of nothing but soldiers. One entire gate contained nothing but military fatigues. The fatigue, it was clear, rested on more than their clothes. In the back of a bar, a dozen other soldiers drank.

"We have a toast," said one of the younger soldiers, raising his glass. The rest of what he said was lost to the ambient noise. An older soldier raised his glass, but his face told the real story. What that real story, is however, is lost on everyone else.

Eventually I made it on-board my plane and set out on the journey I can't discuss. Paranoia set in several times, though each time it was unwarranted.

Now, I'm 24-hours on the ground in Monte Carlo. I've been hugged by many old friends and expect to see more tonight. I write this from my balcony as the Mediterranean crashes on the shore below me.

The view from my balcony

The balcony, you say? The one on which I was locked out of my room last year? Well, yes. As it turns out, I may have been the first, but I was not the last. There are now instructions hanging on the door for people like yours truly.

Here's to me not making an ass of myself before the next post.

For an official version of my arrival, visit here.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Outside toys

Li'l Otis enjoys the yearly $100,000 toy allowance made possible through a deal worked out by the grandparents, a couple of small foreign governments, and a sweatshop in Juarez. We're having a hard time finding space for all the sports equipment, books, and heavy equipment replicas. There's also the variety of blocks, the likes of which have inspired me with some regularity to throw the goat and scream, "Rock out with your blocks out, buddy!" He humors me, throws his version of the goat, and goes back to doing something a little more mature.

If the compact with Antigua and Figi ever goes south--or the the Juarez sweatshop ever runs out of yeyo--you might think my kid would get bored. Methinks not. If the constant infusion of new entertainment options were to dry up, I'd simply need to live in a place...well, much like I live now. That is, a place where I can go outside pretty much all year without fear of hypothermia or the Minnesota Vikings.

The past few days here have made me a little more grumpy about going to Monte Carlo. That's because it's 50 degrees on the Cote D'Azur and it's 80 degrees on the slopes of Mt. Otis. Under the new Spring sun, my son can find toys in just about anything. Rocks are his favorite, likely because of their multi-use functionality. He's a utilitarian kid. We spent most of yesterday outside in various parks.

It was 8:30 this morning when I let the dog out for her morning constitutional. I stepped out on the back deck in my bare feet. The kid followed me out in his socks. We stood and waited for the mutt to finish up. The air was warm. The moment was short but perfect.

"I have to go work for a while," I said. "You and mommy are going to take me to the airport, okay?"

"Where are you going?" the kid asked.

"A place called Monte Carlo," I said. "Can you say Monte Carlo?"

"Look! A bee!"

And that was that.

With any luck, the toy cartel will keep my kid in good spirits while I'm gone. I assume the sun will still be shining up my return.

Wheels up, cowboy.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: Tripper

"Fucking tourist."

Some folks may not know it, but over the years, the word "tourist" has become derisive. It's a way to differentiate between the people who "ain't from 'round here" and people who "ain't from 'round here, but know the scene, man."

To put a finer point on it, travelers laugh at tourists. It can sometimes get a little holier-than-thou, but even tourists have to admit, there is usually a pretty clear difference in philosophy. Tourists go to see the sights. Travelers go to live the culture. That, at least in the mind of the travelers, makes their journey better.

I figure I agree. I know travelers and I know tourists. If I had to join one of their clubs, it would certainly be the former. Occasionally, they let me in for a little look at how exciting life can be. It's been a long time since I've been a tourist. Frankly, I think that's why I don't travel more. Seeing the sights ain't my bag.

There is a disconnect in here somewhere. As most regular readers know, I tend to spend more time on the road than your average bear. In just the past four years, it's been Denmark, England, Monaco, France, Austria, the Bahamas, and more than a few American cities. Most of those European trips weren't one-offs. I've been to London three times, Monte Carlo twice, and Austria twice. In 1997, I did the backpacking thing with my college buddies, from London up to Edinburgh, over to Amsterdam, down to Paris, and back up to London. I've off-roaded on the back side of Aruba, went scuba diving in Hawaii, and driven a convertible up the PCH.

It feels a little odd to say, but none of the above feels complete. It seems even more odd when I am just a couple generations removed from relatives who couldn't make it to my wedding because they were uncomfortable with the idea of getting on a plane. That is to say, if they've been anywhere, they've been in a car, and that means they ain't been far. I'd venture to say, if you took a couple people out of my dad's side of the family, I've been more places than all the people I'm related to combined. So, how can it all feel incomplete?

I don't know why I bothered to itemize my travels. I could've just as easily written, "I been around, Pink. I been around." There's a part of me that seems willing to admit that it's an ego thing. Maybe some part of my brain thinks I'm going to impress people by talking about all the places I've been. In truth, though, I've been nowhere.

When I think about travelers, I tend to think about people I know. The two that come to mind most immediately are Pauly (who is a frequent character in my road stories) and Brandon. I've written enough about Pauly that you should get a sense for him. He's a beyond-definition character. That is, the closest you'll ever get to defining Pauly is to talk about where's he been...or better yet, where he's going to be next. While his lifestyle has its drawbacks, it is one most would envy. Brandon, while still a wild and crazy traveler, is not quite as bohemian as Pauly, but still gets the job done. I met Brandon a little more than two years ago in France. At the time, he was a just-from-college poker guy who happened to win a pretty big poker tournament. He ended up parlaying his winnings into some good investments and has been traveling ever since (I think he's supposed to be going to get his MBA soon, but the call of the road is a strong one). Those men are travelers.

The point I'm dancing around here is my inability to enjoy most of the trips I take. I think the travel industry would describe me as a business traveler, an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. If you're on business, you're not traveling in the sense that Pauly and Brandon travel. I can only describe most of my jaunts as "trips."

I am a tripper.

That was a very long way to tell you I'm about to hit the road again. True to form, it's a business trip that will likely result in much more business than pleasure. It's Monte Carlo this time, or I should say, again. This will be my third run into the famed city. While it's a gorgeous place and the event I'm going to work is a very nice one, it's yet another trip that will likely have me under the flourescents more than it has me under the sun. There are a few thing about this trip I can't discuss at the moment, but they should make for a more interesting adventure. Once I'm in a safe zone, I hope to write a little more about it.

Regardless, my return to the road has me thinking about whether I've been using my travel opportunities as good fodder for writing material. I think in most cases I have, but I should made a better effort to do so. There's a part of me that dreams of starting a new life as a travel writer like my friend, Jen Leo. I might have the chops for it. I dunno.

Here's a snippet from "Naked in Copenhagen", a quick blog post I wrote when I landed in Copenhagen, Denmark, sans luggage.

I stopped in "Everything's a Kroner" (not the real name, but folks from the States will recognize the little strip mall dollar stores with the same theme). It's the kind of place you can buy a loose bag of oregano, a ten-pack of razors, and a religious candle in the same trip. When I walked out, I realized I had made it to the center of the city. A group of school children sat outside the Louis Toussaud Wax Museum, begging to be let in a few minutes before the official opening time. Across the way, through the birds, is another touristy place, A Ripley's museum. Beyond those exceptions, though, this doesn't look like a tourist trap. Worker bees buzz in and out of the alleyways. Shopowners push through the cold to take the bars off their shop windows.

When--three hours later--I had finally had enough walking and assembled a suitable outfit to carry me until tomorrow (surely to goodness and mercy SAS will find my bag by Saturday), I stopped into an Irish pub for a pint of Guinness, A row of older men sat in chairs near the windows, enjoying a pint or two, smoking their pipes, and reading the daily news. A man stepped up to me and said something in a language I didn't understand.

The bartender, a friendly woman that must be killing time in the fashion model off- season, said "He's asking you if it's good" and nodded to my Guinness. I smiled at the man and indicated it was. Before I could warn him that I was just a poker correspondent who doesn't have the good sense to pack an extra outfit in his carry-on bag, he'd ordered a couple of pints and moved on with my recommendation.

Friendly, trusting city.

That was far from my best road story, but it's one I remember because someone later quoted a line from the story back to me.

Since we're massaging today, here are a few links to other tripper stories:

Mr. A in the Big A. -- my first trip to New York.
Wrinkled in Europe -- A Nice, France lament on hotel amenities
Stuck in Monte Carlo -- What happens when I'm stupid in a foreign country
A Night at Jimmy'z -- Spitefully rolling with the rich in Monte Carlo's hottest club
Walking in Deauville -- On being alone in France

That's just a few of the stories. I think, after some re-reading, I'm getting some decent stories out of the trips. Still, I'd rather stop tripping and start traveling.

Either way, it's wheels up in 48 hours.


Oh, on another note, someone mentioned recently that they haven't seen my RSS feed in some time. Because of the new Blogger change, old subscribers should resubscribe using the link at the end of the post.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Doing the Nasty

My wife and I haven't been sleeping together.

For the past few nights, I've slept on the couch or in my office, curled up under an old blanket or with some random pillow that just doesn't feel right. At the moment, my relationship with the wife is such that if I see her, I walk in the other direction. If she dares enter a room with me, she knows she'll get nothing more than a finger pointed in the other direction. I barely have to speak to her anymore. She knows to get the hell away from me. And, try as she may, she can't bring herself to speak to me either.

Strep throat will do that to you.

I don't think I'm breaking any martial vows by telling you my wife's tolerance for pain is equivalent to a three year-old who knows doting adults are watching. She'd rather suffer years of water boarding than stub her toe. Of course, she is also the only member of this family to drop a seven pound weight out of her crotch, so I can't say too much. However, if I were going to say too much, I might say that she handles the pain of strep throat...well, I guess about like anybody else handles the pain of strep throat. I, for one, can't remember ever having been afflicted with the illness. My mom, ever the champion of the Mother Class, insists I did have strep as a kid and likely handled it pretty badly. She also tells me that it feels like someone took a heavy grade sandpaper and snaked out your esophagus. My wife just says it hurts worse than any sore throat she's ever had.

Yesterday her doctor, in spite of a "false negative" strep test, diagnosed my wife with a "nasty throat" and sent her home with some antibiotics. Where normally I might be a bit intrigued by the concept of a spousal nasty throat, in this case, I was willing the believe that the doctor--again, in spite of a negative test--was likely right. And even if she wasn't right, I still wasn't going to go anywhere near my wife.

Now, in normal cases, I'd be a real fucking hero about all of this. If it meant I had to lick said "nasty throat" to prove my love for my wife, I'd do it. I have a fairly decent immune system and only get sick once or twice a year. This time though, I can't afford to take any chances. I'm getting ready to go on an eleven day international trip, during which I figure to be working 16 hours a day or so and traveling on every mode of uncomfortable transport you can imagine (aside: there should be a law that coach must be described as "coach" and not "tourist class" or some other "class." Coach is coach and it means it will suck, no matter how you look at it).

Before the "nasty" diagnosis, I was avoiding close contact and deep high-school-style kissing with my wife. Now, she gets me in thirty-second shots (that's enough snickering from the peanut gallery). That is, I pop into the bedroom to bring her water or broth and noodle soup. She takes it, rasps something that sounds like "I love you" or "I wish you were dead" and crawls back under the covers. And me? Well, I'm Mr. Mom for a while. See, my kid's pain tolerance is better than my wife's, but he's still only two. And with me getting ready to hit the road, the wife can't really afford to give the kid Nasty Throat.

And so now, as the kid naps and I pound through my work-work, I realize I'm unshowered, unshaven, and generally disgusting. I've slept about 12 hours out of the last 72. I actually feel okay so far. However, if this continues for much longer, I'm going to have to see about finding some home remedy for the Nasty.

More on the upcoming trip to come. The kid is stirring and I need to wash myself.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Live blogging suburbia

Two weeks ago, we hired a new yard services company to make Mt. Otis look nice, part of an ongoing effort to look less like we are doing our best to get full use out of a rental house when we are actually paying a mortgage on this thing.

8:12am--Motherfucker. Who starts working with gas-powered equipment at this hour? I for one have only been asleep for four hours and the idea of a gas-driven hedge trimmer below my bedroom window makes me want to cancel my contract with "The Cutting Edge" (not the real name, but it might as well be).

9:12am--Motherfucker, these guys are serious. We had been told that our little cul-de-sac home would be given the first-run go-over this morning, but I didn't know it was going to be this fucking noisy.

9:30am--I manage to fall back asleep. I dream about sex stuff. Because I do that a lot.

10:45am--Seems like as good a time as any to wake up. I peek my head out the window to survey what my money has purchased. Something is really, really wrong. The yard looks nice. The hedges below my window look nice. But something is really, really wrong with the six year-old hedges lining the street. I planted those hedges with my wife. Dwarf Holly, I think they're called.

10:47am--Barefoot, hair-mussed, I walked into the yard. Everything looks perfect, save the row of hedges along Otis Court. For the first time, I think of the phrase, "pruned with an axe" and make plans to use it several times over the next few hours.

11:01am--The wife calls on her way home from her workout to see if I want coffee. I suggest that our front hedges have been "pruned with an axe." I accept the offer of coffee and sit back to wait on my wife's opinion.

11:30am--Unacceptable, she says. I have to agree, and though she at one point used the word "butchered," I sort of feel like she should've said something about the axe. We considered that a) The Cuttting Edge isn't finished and b) The Cutting Edge is using some sort of new-fangled pruning technique.

11:42am--I call my contact at The Cutting Edge and tell him my opinion about the bushes and use my little phrase again. "About that," he says. "I was in a meeting and couldn't call you." He goes on to say his guys finished our job, left, went to another job in the neighborhood, drove back by and noticed the damage. "Looks like somebody ran over your bushes," he said. Oddly, I believe him. He goes on to say that if his guys had done it, they would've replaced everything. The Cutting Edge is a reputable company that does most of the nice lawns in the area.

12:01pm--And yet. And yet, what the fuck do I do now. I remember buying the bushes when they were tiny and planting them with the wife in what, at the time, seemed to be a very grueling day of yard work. Most of them look beyond repair. The logical part of my brain suggests that the only option is that The Cutting Edge guys did it on accident and couldn't own up to it to their boss. I, however, have no way to prove this. And so, I'm fucked. Actually, my bushes are fucked. Me, I'm just cranky.

12:03pm--Now I don't know what to do. I have now looked over the destruction several times and it is pretty clear the damage was done by a car. The remaining questions are 1) who? and 2) why? So, I look up the non-emergency number for the Otis County Sheriff's Office. After five minutes on the phone, a nice man with a nice southern accent defines the phrase "passing the buck" for me and passes on the number for the Highway Patrol. His reasoning goes like this: I have no reason to believe it was malicious, hence, it was probably an accident and under the jurisdiction of the HP.

12:08pm--I reach a dispatcher at the Highway Patrol who audibly rolls her eyes. By this point, I feel a little stupid. However, I figure if I'm going to fix this situation, I need to get a law enforcement report for it. After I explain the situation for the fourth time, the lady says a trooper will be right out. I should point out, a few months ago, I was at an illegal poker tournament. I witnessed a head on collision in which there were injuries. We called the HP. It took the trooper nearly two hours to show up. So, like, I'm really anticipating a quick arrival to write a report on my fucked up hedges.

12:18pm--The dog starts barking and I figure The Cutting Edge bossman has come by to check everything out. Instead, there is a police interceptor Crown Vic in the driveway. I overcome my amazement long enough to put on shoes and go outside to talk to Trooper Thompson. To summarize the conversation: "I'm a friendly state trooper, but what the fuck do you want me to do here? You have no idea who did it, it is going to go on your homeowner's insurance anyway." I actually feel bad for calling. The guy was nice enough, but, hell, what do I expect him to do. He ends up handing me a blank accident report. I consider filling it out to make it look like one of my friends ran over a moose, but decide against it.

12:45pm--Lunch. Turkey with pepperjack cheese, brown mustard, and Sun Chips on the side. I drink water in an effort to cut down on the number of Diet Cokes I drink in a day. I spend the lunch thinking about how I'd like to find the person who ran over our bushes...and how I'd like a Diet Coke.

1:30pm--I have yet to call the insurance company. The wife and I have slipped into a paranoia that involves our suspicion that our new neighbors are involved. Any car that rolls up onto our street gets the stinkeye. Everything is reason to be on alert. We begin making plans to sneak into our new neighbor's driveway overnight and look for Dwarf Holly leaves in the wheel wells of their Subaru. We might need more sleep.

2:12pm--Another vehicle pulls onto Otis Court. It is a UPS minivan. The UPS guy usually comes in a big ol' truck. Then, a knock at the door. The dog barks. I, again barefoot, step out to talk to a man named Quinton.

2:30pm--Well, go figure. Apparently our friendly UPS guy (the one who is always on his cell phone) lost control of his truck this morning and ran through our yard. He apparently knocked and I was apparently unconcious (something that is a bit too common around here...apparently). After a breif conversation and some investigation, a very apologetic UPS regional manager explains that I will be contacted by the company's insurance representative and that all costs will be covered.

And suddenly my night mission across the street seems a little silly.

Fuck, I may do it anyway. I don't care where you come from. Hazing new neighbors is a good time.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: Cave love

"Don't sleep too late," my wife said. "It's cave-sleeping weather."

She closed the bedroom door, leaving the brand new memory on an infant-fresh day. That was quite a moment, I thought, though no one watching would've noticed.

The tone in her voice wasn't accusatory or chiding. It was the voice of a girlfriend who had to run off to work while her boyfriend stayed in bed after a long night of lovemaking.

In truth, we'd gone to bed early last night. She'd drifted to sleep on my shoulder while I read a fairly hilarious George Saunders story. It was humid and warm when we went to sleep. This morning, there was a cold spring rain making noise on the roof. It was, in fact, cave-sleeping weather--the kind of sky that makes a bedroom darker and a blanket warmer.

Early days in our relationship, the wife lived in a gorgeous place that backed up to a small forested area. Her bedroom was on the lowest level and enjoyed all-day shade. Some days, we'd stay in bed all day long, two young lovers in their college cave. We'd laugh when we realized it was 5pm and we had yet to start our real world day.

When the weather gets like it is today, our old instincts take over and it's hard to get out of bed. We remember what it was like to spend the day exerting energy only on each other.

Real life, of course, doesn't allow for such selfishness. There are jobs, kids, bills, errands, and a host of other responsibilities that make us get up and get on with the day. It's the life we built and a life we love. I don't think either of us regularly pines for the old days to the degree that it makes us regret giving up the hedonistic times.

This morning, though, I saw just a hint of my old girlfriend. When she left me in bed to get on with real life, she had a glimmer in her eye and a smoke in her voice that made me remember what she looked like a decade ago when she would slip out of our little cave on her way to work.

Tonight, our babysitter will be here at 6:15. We have reservations at one of the new, hip, trendy places in town. After that, we'll either go catch a movie or just come home and watch something on TV. Tomorrow, real life will start again at the break of dawn and we'll do it all over again.

And I'm not sure either of us could be any happier about it.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

HDTV (W-H-Y-?)

Mt. Otis is technologically sound. Within the short time it would take to tour both floors of the home, you would find four operational computers, two iPods, various stereo equipment, speaker systems that allow me to listen to my music anywhere on my property, satellite radio, a TV satellite with more channels than I've ever seen, four digital cameras, four digital camera lenses, several cordless phones with digital answering services, and enough remote controls (should I give them to charity) to keep the homeless in their lazyboys for the next decade.

I use this technology well. My PC has a 24-inch monitor with picture-in-picture and will display any of my satellite TV channels in the corner of the screen while I work. I have outdoor speakers on my deck so I can listen to my iPod while I tend to the grill. I have wireless speakers that I can carry anywhere and set up for easy listening. I have Bose QC3s for when I want to listen to music and nothing else. I have a cellular phone that will work just about anywhere in the world. I have a wireless broadband card for my laptop so I can work just about anywhere in the U.S. My wife's new car has a DVD player, drop down screen, satellite radio, and a electric plug in. That means, should the whim strike us, we could load the kid in the car with a bunch of DVDs, and while he is watching the DVD on a set of wireless headphones in the back, we could listen to XM radio in the back while we drive. Further, should I need to use my laptop, I could plug it into the electric outlet and use my broadband card to access the Internet while we cross the country. Next thing you know, my work-week is over and we're at Wally World.

Reading back over this, it all sounds pretty excessive, especially in light of the fact that I've long considered myself a Luddite. Still, we use everything we have here and are quite happy to have it.

In the past few weeks, I've had more than a few people ask me whether I have HDTV. In each case, I laughed and said, "Well, no. Do you?" It seemed a silly idea. Last I head, I'd have to auction my wife on the Internet if I wanted to watch a few high-def channels on TV. And while I'm a liberal thinker, I don't want to give any of my well bank-rolled friends a shot at my wife just because they know how to use an auction sniping service.

"You have no idea," my friend T said one night.

"What do you mean I have no idea?" I said. I like a clear picture and all, but I'd rather spend my money on other things.

"Have you ever seen a football game in high-def?" Badblood asked one night.

"Can't say I have," I said, almost completely disinterested.

The subject came up at a poker game a few nights later. Someone again brought up HD and I rolled my eyes.

"You must not watch much sports on TV," a guy said, clearly making it a point to further emasculate me.

Thing is, I do. I subscribe to NFL Sunday ticket and watch as many games as possible. March Madness is on TV right now. I'm no sports expert, but I enjoy watching games as much as the next guy.

Fearing I might protest too much, I finally just shut up.

I have three TVs in my home, only one of which gets watched very much. It's a 32-inch flat screen that I bought several years ago after my wife told me I couldn't buy one any larger.

"I will not have a TV as the focal point of my living area," she protested.

[This space left for you to wrap you head around that one for a second.]

I currently have no plans to buy a new TV. If things don't change, I should like be able to acquire (notice, I didn't say buy) this TV by the end of the year. However, I'm not really itching for it, and if it wasn't going to be essentially free, I probably wouldn't bother.

I guess I just don't get it. When people tell me about their HD experience, I look at them much in the same way they look at me when I tell them about my Ecco shoes. The HD converts get such a glazed, orgasmy look about them that I almost think they bought their set from Jim Jones' ghost.

Me, I haven't just bought into it yet. If that makes me a woman, then sign me up for the Internet booty auction. Maybe they'll broadcast my exploits in HD.

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Monday, March 12, 2007


Greenville, South Carolina is one of those places you'd never go on a whim. Ten years ago, if you'd asked me to find it on a map, I maybe could've pointed within 400 miles of the Greenville dot. When I describe it to friends from London or Amsterdam or Madrid, I say, "You've heard of Atlanta and Charlotte? It's halfway between those two cities."

Greenville is more than that, though. I always tell people who ask, "I ended up in Greenville by accident and never left." That's basically true. In TV news, when some one offers you a decent job that is better than the one you have, you take it. If that job is in Anchorage, Glendive, or Greenville, you take it. That was what happened with my wife and I. She was offered a job. Then, by virtue of her talent and her employer's desire to prevent me from working for the competition, I was offered a job. We moved, married, bought a house, had a kid, and called Greenville home.

A few of you have been here, either for the wedding or for Bradoween. You've seen bits and pieces of why we stay here. The city is vibrant, the climate is comfortable, and the people are slightly more forward-thinking than the rest of the South.

It was in this environment that we packed up our new family-mover and went to the downtown park along the Reedy River. It is probably the most beautiful place in the city. It's green, flowered, waterfally, and generally among the most comfortable places to spend an afternoon. Yesterday was a pre-St. Pats day Irish festival. Thousands of people were out, drinking Guinness, listening to Irish music, and eating Irishy food. I had the kid, the wife, and this laptop in tow. Sunday is a rough day for me work-wise and I couldn't afford to be without the 'puter. The park has wireless access, so, well, it worked out. As the band played and my kid danced, I climbed about 80 feet up a hill and got online. Where everybody else was holding a beer or their child, I was sitting on a rock with a laptop on my knees.

If you're a frequent laptop user, you know it's uncomfortable to wear a watch and type at the same time. My watch is not an overly expensive one, but I love it just the same. It was a gift from my wife. One night, I'd stuck one of my kid's stickers on the back of it. I do things like that to make me feel closer to my kid when I'm away.

I slipped off my watch and put it at my side while I finished up ten minutes of work that couldn't wait. As I completed the task, the band started playing a good song and I looked down to see my wife. Eighty feet below me, she held my son in the air and spun around in the sunshine. I slapped my laptop shut and ran down the hill.

I dodged my way through the crowd, ignoring the jokes from a poker player I know about whether I was playing poker online in the middle of the park. I threw my laptop in the kid's stroller, grabbed him, and danced like we were in our living room and the whole city couldn't see me acting like the idiot I loved to be. The song ended and I walked my son down to a small tributary of the river so he could get dirty.

Daylight Saving Time had come early and I marveled at how beautiful it was outside at 5pm. Wait, was it really 5pm? I pulled up my left arm to check my watch...the watch I'd left sitting on the hill.

I handed the kid to my wife and ran back up the hill. As I suspected, my watch was gone. I spent ten minutes vainly searching to see if the watch had rolled down the decline or gotten buried in some dirt. Nope. Gone.

For reasons I couldn't fully understand, I got mad, then sad, then generally surly. I wondered how long it took for one of the people on the hill to pick up my watch and put it in their pocket. I wondered what they would think when they looked on the back of it and saw the tiny Christmas tree sticker.

My arm has felt lighter ever since, and my heart conversely heavier. I could go out and buy the same watch today, but it wouldn't mean anything. It was a gift. It was a private symbol of my child's innocence. It meant something to me.

I remember a time in the north of France a couple of years ago when I was sitting beside an exceedingly wealthy man. We were both on laptops and both removed our watches to type. Later, we went to a bar and he realized he'd left his watch behind. He sprinted back to where he'd left it, likely because the watch cost more than I would make in four months. People value watches for different reason, I guess.

The past three months have marked some pretty odd changes in my behavior and personality. Perhaps the most evident change is the length of time it takes me to lose patience for something. For as long as I can remember, I have been the most patient person I know. It took a lot to rattle me. It took a great deal more to make me mad. Recently, the smallest of things have sent me down a path to such insane tilt, I barely know myself. If I'm being honest, it's pretty fucking scary.

I've worked pretty hard to attribute the personality change to something specific. I've looked at my lifestyle, my family, my job, my finances...everything that can affect one's personality. While every one of those areas has seen need for improvement in one way or another, I can't really lay the blame on any one of those things. Even putting them all together leaves me wanting for that one vital missing link to explain what's messing with my head.

Yesterday, as I steamed about the lost/stolen watch and elbowed my way through downtown to our favorite little Mexican joint, I couldn't put my finger on it. It took until just a few minutes ago for me to finally admit it to myself.

I'm scared.

I've spent the past decade putting my all into my job. Although I've had better jobs than most people I know, living a life that is defined by your profession has its drawbacks. What's more, I think a great deal of my purported passion for my jobs has been a way to hide my fear of actually trying to...well, okay...be what my friend Wil calls a capital "W" Writer. There. I said it. Again.

I think I have determined that I'm letting time fly by as fast as I can because I'm afraid if I slow down, I'll realize how little I am actually doing. This afternoon, I watched my kid (just two and half years old) put on an entire play with a couple of dump trucks. There was a plot and everything. It was improv. The kid breaks my heart and I can barely write about him without tearing up.

My wife and I have occasional discussions about how we're becoming more summer than spring chickens. Ten years ago, we had our lives ahead of us and could afford to be bohemian and lazy. Now, it feels like each month slips away a little bit faster. We've managed to succeed on a lot of fronts. We're financially comfortable. We have a beautiful son, a home, a dog, two cars, and very little debt. It is the American Dream...which we managed to accomplish in spite of ourselves.

As much as I want to be mad at whoever is wearing my watch today, I can't help but accept the blame for leaving it sitting there to be stolen. I was trying to balance my obligations to work and family and failing miserably at both. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to make sure I am doing what I am supposed to do that I leave some of the important things behind.

Acceptance, I'm told, is the first step.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: Tax this

Of life's two certainties, I faced one head-on this week.

"You had a good year," Billie said to me from across her desk.

"I'm not going to complain," I said. "Of course, this year likely won't be nearly so good."

She looked at me with a look akin to how a dog looks at a squirrel wearing a marching band outfit. The look said, unequivocally, "Huh?"

I started trying to explain the ups and downs of life and finances in my world. About two sentences in, I could see she drifted off to how much work she had to do before the March 15 corporate filing deadline. I shut up and wondered if I had time to get my hair cut.

As we finished up, I asked her about a couple of itemized places on my personal return.

"That's the child tax credit," she said. "I wonder why it's only $50?"

I wondered the same. Fifty bucks? I feed, clothe, pre-school, and provide healthy play experiences for my son, and the government is only crediting me fifty dollars for my efforts and money spent? Has the IRS ever purchased diapers? Better yet, has the IRS ever changed a diaper? I should get a $1000 credit just for that.

"Ah, yes," she said. "You don't qualify for the full amount."

She pointed in eight different directions, at some flow charts, pictographs, and some sort of Nordic runes to explain how I wasn't eligible for the $1,000 child tax credit.

"Well," I said. I composed myself. "Well, at least I'll have the deduction for my health insurance."

A little more than a year ago, when the wife came home to play police woman to my kid's Babyface Nelson, we lost our Big Time Corporate Health Insurance. While never great insurance, it was always there.

"Well, sure," Billie said. She sounded like I did the other night when I tried to convince my son that one green blanket was as good as the other and that he could go to sleep while his favorite was in the dryer. [Note to Cincinnati Sara: Your gift to my boy is one of his most prized possessions.]

A few clicks on the keyboard and Billie looked at me and shook her head. Despite the fact I spend $600 a month on health insurance for my family, I don't meet the minimum threshold for deducting the cost.

So, I'm not allowed to take the tax credit for my kid and I don't get the deduction for having insurance to keep my him in doctor's visits and cough medicine.

Remind me to find a candidate who is in favor of tax reform.


In other news, I got my hair cut on the same day. As I sat under the scissors, I occupied myself by looking at the posters on the wall (anything to avoid looking in the mirror at the stylist's bulging crotch on my shoulder). One of the marketing posters was of a blonde woman in what was surely anticipatory glee. You could see behind her, out of focus, a man with a sly look on his face. My eyes were drawn to the woman's unique belt. It was orange and didn't go through the belt loops of her tight jeans. I looked closer. Then I looked at her hands. She was holding two large alligator clamps.

Jumper cables. The woman was tied up in jumper cables.

"That woman is tied up in jumper cables," I said, eyes in line with the crotch.

"Hmmm," my stylist said. "Most people just say they like her hair."

I come from the Midwest, where the vernacular usually calls for a person with a dead battery to inquire, "Can you give me a jump?" Growing up, that never seemed dirty. However, when I moved to the South ten years ago, I started hearing a new phrase.

"Can you jump me off?"

Now, sitting in a franchise hair cuttery populated by crotch-shoulder massagers, I felt like this message was less than subliminal. And I swear on all that's holy, the caption on the jumper cable S&M poster read: Lifestyles.


I was up late last night. From 8pm until around 3am, I had one of those periods in which everything...just...worked. Every decision I made was the right one. Every risk I took paid off. I didn't use luck when I didn't need it. In return, luck rewarded me by showing up when I was, indeed, in need. The result was being able to go to bed with a foreign sense of calm and accomplishment. I feel asleep much faster than normal.


Finally, some pimping:

My wife is on a roll over at her blog.

A good friend of mine recently started blogging. One of his recent posts touched me. Check it out.

Absinthe, my boy in the 'wood (did I just type that?), is in the final stages of baby-waiting. He's also enduring one of the ugliest realities of baby-prep. Check him out at Absinthetics.

Pauly publishes a monthly online literary mag based largely on people's travels, either around the world or around life. The March issue of Truckin' features some hella writers.

The Friday Mental Massage is a brain dump. Herein, you'll find no attempt at what some people call "writing." Of course, some people would say they don't normally find capital "W" writing here, anyway.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Having been there

I woke up to an e-mail this morning that made me nauseous. Two of my dearest friends woke up Monday to learn their father had suffered a small stroke. From there, it just got worse. A few minutes ago, I got off the phone with one of the sisters. Apparently, the doctors have found something of greater concern. As I talked to my friend, I heard the same sound that was in my voice a little more than three years ago. Tonight, I'm hoping my friends are as lucky as I was.

For those of you who have only recently started reading here, I'm going to re-post a long series of updates I wrote back when my dad was in the hospital. I do it both to remind me how lucky I was, and to give hope to others.

Peace tonight, friends.


From an e-mail I wrote to friends a few days after my dad's collapse from a ruptured aneurysm

The thing about a brain injury--as near as I can tell--is that it not only affects the decision making skills of the afflicted, but also the people in the vicinity. Exactly 12 hours ago I thought we were in a holding pattern in which there would be no further action taken on my father's head until at least the weekend. After all, that was what the doctors said. Of course, the doctors had said the same thing the last two days and changed their minds. On both days we were fairly sure my dad was going to die.

Nine hours ago my dad went in for the second brain surgery he's had this week. This one was more life-threatening than the last. While I'll spare everyone the emotional details, there is something to be said for the cathartic qualities of taking one last chance to tell your father what he has meant to your life.

In what was a relieving but frustrating sequence of events, Dad came out of the second surgery intact and alive. He is again breathing on his own and is sleeping off the anesthesia. Medical-types will be interested to know the doctors have still not been able to fix the original problem. However, today, they removed a blood clot from my dad's brain that was about the size of an egg. That should help some the problems he was having. On the frustrating side, Dad now requires a third essential brain surgery. We have to wait a few days before that will happen.

Michelle has been the backbone I'm sure all of you expected she would be. I'm trying to find the strength to send her back home. However, in the past three days I've had reason to believe my dad was going to die each afternoon. I'm hoping Thursday proves to be an exception to this week's pattern.

Just as important as Michelle's support has been that I've been getting from friends and family around the country. From phone and e-mail messages, to internet comment sites, to blogs, the support has been overwhelming.

This afternoon, I stood in the entryway to the waiting room. My dad had been in surgery for a couple of hours and I was trying to find a way to not puke on the reception desk. A woman walked in carrying a thick envelope. She was looking for my dad's family.

"We had so many e-mails they almost wouldn't fit in the envelope," she said.

I took them and walked toward my assembled family, expecting to read a few. I started flipping through them and started recognizing names. Michelle saw me from across the room and did as she's learned to do when she sees "the look" on my face. A few seconds later, Chelle was sharing all of your well-wishes with my family as I took a walk around the perimeter of the hospital. Sometimes the good stuff can get to as hard as a bad stuff.

I'd like to spend the next hour writing about how much I appreciate everybody. I like to consider myself a rock. Turns out, it's easy to be stable when you're entire foundation is built on friendships like the kinds I've seen this week.

One thought before I see a bed for the first time in 40 hours...

As Chelle and I sit in the Neuro Trauma ICU, our journalist brains kick in. Chelle's heart has found itself in the middle of many a family's pow-wow. As my family goes through it's greatest struggle yet, we are surrounded by at least five families going through the same or worse in the very same week. The names travel from mundane to exotic. The stories are all horrible.

Jennifer Lojudice begged her husband not to buy a sports car. She didn't think she would have to beg him not to drive 120 mph and flip the car. Two weeks ago doctors told her to plan his funeral. Today he is still alive, but barely.

Randy Lawson was Marshfield, Missouri's answer to Lance Armstrong (or in the case of the WYFF'ers, Scott Enright). He got hit by a car while riding down the road. His daughter pulled up on the wreck and called back to ask, "Mom, Daddy didn't go out riding tonight did he?" He's a bag of mangled pieces that sometimes wakes up and sometimes doesn't. We've lost count of the surgeries and number of doctors.

Margaret Edders dad had just retired a couple of years ago. He was bored and decided to help his son clean a high ceiling. He fell off a 12 foot ladder. The concrete below met the left side of his head with enough force to make sure he didn't wake up for the last three days.

There is likely a great message in all this, but I don't feel qualified to assess what it is. Suffice it for me to admit that I have been more naive than I thought I was.

Again, I hope to send Chelle home soon. I don't know when I'll be back. For the sake of my mom, the rest of my family, and frankly myself, I hope I have reason to see Greenville again very soon.

Again, I'll never be able to repay the love you've all shown my father, me, and
Michelle so far.


Written after emergency brain surgery #2

The Neuro Trauma ICU has windows and televisions. Though they masquerade well as portals to the outside world, they are more decoration than anything else. On more than one occasion, one of the assembled masses (usually one who hasn't seen a shower in a couple of days) looks up from a crossword puzzle and asks, "What day is it?"

To remedy the problem, at least in part, we've started hanging handmade signs from the bottom of our lifeless TV. Today's read: Today is...FRIDAY...October 24, 2003.

On the surface, Friday was much like any other day this week. Waking up in a fluorescent-lit room, dry-nosed from the conditioned air, and chilled to the bone by the vents overhead. Eating something quick from the hospital cafeteria. Slugging down coffee and double shots of espresso to shake out the cobwebs.

Deep down, today was different. For instance...a few of us cried today...out of happiness. That doesn't happen much around the NTICU.

Dad is waking up from a week in the fog. He has a large semi-circular scar etched around his hairline. His eyes are glazed. His hands often feel cold. Still, he smiles occasionally and is finding some humor in the middle of his hell.

Michelle and I sat next to his bed today. The nurse poked him the chest. They do that to wake him up when he doesn't feel like it.

"Hey, there. Will you tell me your name?" She did this every time she woke him up from his deep nap.

Dad didn't answer. I sat on the edge of my chair, hoping against hope that he would say something...anything resembling his name. Just two days before he had called his feet "books."

Dad didn't say anything.

"What's your name?"

I was getting ready to cry when I heard him say something. The nurse didn't hear him through his croaking throat (the breathing tube made it sore).

"What? What's your name?"

Dad spoke louder...this time with a smile. "I said I thought you'd know it by now."

Dear God, my Dad is joking. Unbelievable.

Two minutes later, after a couple more jokes, Dad looked at Michelle and me. The nurse asked if he knew who we were. I clenched my wife's hand. While he had seen me there a few times, he had never really acknowledged me.

"That's my son, Brad, and his wife, Michelle."

That's when I started crying.

Everyone was smiling today. We understand there are dangerous days ahead. In a few short hours everything could change and we could be facing tough decisions. We've already made a few, including authorizing a surgery that could've killed our father. We did it because we knew he would've wanted it. Though the decision nearly made us collapse emotionally, the surgery worked and we believe it is why Dad is talking to us now.


Written during the long wait for brain surgery #3

Dad was always too busy reaching for success to care much about TV. He had a real world to conquer and the relative safety of America's televised fiction was a poor substitute. TV served more as background noise while he and his family sorted through work files. We learned to alphabetize early, not knowing the work we were doing would someday lead to a college education and comfortable lifestyle.

Still, when Dad took a break from ruling his life and business, he would occasionally escape into the TV. While I know we spent more time in front of the tube than I remember, the best memories are the Cardinals/Royals World Series and reruns of Cheers. Dad's laugh shook the room and made you want to laugh even if you didn't get the jokes. And he's still ticked about that call at first base.

Sometimes one of the kids--and sometimes Mom--would start talking ad naseuem during a program. Like a frog about to die in a pot of soon-boiling water, we didn't notice the volume level of the TV going up or the remote control in Dad's hand. Soon enough, though, we'd realize the noise had risen to a silly level. We'd look over and Dad would be smiling quietly. He never had to say a word. The intent was clear. Shut up...please.

This afternoon Jeff and I went back to visit Dad in the middle of the Rams/Steelers game. We chatted quietly and watched the Rams take it to the boys from Pittsburgh. When Chatty Nurse walked in and started quizzing Jeff on his medical aspirations (rather loudly) none of us noticed what we should've expected. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the TV on the wall got louder...until it was maxed out and blasting through the ICU.

Sitting here in the dark, I still feel a little guilty for my first thought. Jesus, Dad has lost it. He can't hear a damned thing and he's trying to turn up the game so he can hear it.

Then I looked down at his face. He didn't wink, but he might as well have. I almost wish I had interpreted the situation for the nurse. Shut up...please.

Dad is in there. He goes to sleep a lot and takes a while to come back after he opens his eyes, but he's in there. That sense of humor that we love is dancing behind his glazed eyes.

For instance, last night I was sitting beside his bed. We were alone and talking about his past and future. I said to him what I actually believe: This situation certainly sucks, but it could've been worse.

Dad said, "Yeah, it could've. I could've died." A brief pause. "That really would've pissed me off."

Me, too, Dad. Me, too.

I walked into the hospital exactly one week ago this minute. By this time next week, I hope...

Well, we all know what we hope.


Written as the third surgery was on the horizon

If you dig through the Willis family archives, you'll find a picture of me standing in front of the television. I'm in my underwear and watching the Charlie Brown "Great Pumpkin" special.

As the stories go, as a child I would cry when Charlie Brown holiday specials signed off. I don't know if it was because as a child I thought I'd never see them again or if I simply enjoyed them so much I never wanted it to end.

Tonight I found myself standing in front of one of those old-school hospital televisions watching and waiting with Linus for the Great Pumpkin. I sucked on a sucker and watched quietly. It would only be a few more minutes until visiting hours began. It would probably be the last time I got to talk to my dad before he went into surgery the next morning.

Dad was lying back in the bed with his head propped up. He was holding my mom's hand tighter than he had in the last few days. He was acting tougher than he had all week. He was ready and I could see it. He's a Willis. His eyes might as well have screamed, "Let's get this thing done and get on to what's next!"

It's been almost a week since I stood beside my unconscious father and told him exactly what he meant to my life. As I stood there tonight, I felt as if he had heard me and knew what I wanted to say again. So, I grabbed his hand and held it tighter than I ever had as a child. I kissed him on his cheek and told him I loved him. He looked at me unafraid, and more gentle than I've ever see him. He loved me, too.

I wanted to reassure him, tell him not to be afraid, and that everything was going to be okay. All I could say was, "You're gonna make it through this just fine."

I felt the tears starting to form and didn't want him to see my cry. I escaped behind the curtain. As I started to walk away I heard him say confidently, "Don't worry. We'll be back. We'll be back."

With Dad, everything has always been "we."

"We'll be back," without a doubt meant he will be back.

I'm a lot older than I was when I stood in front of the TV in my underwear watching the Great Pumpkin. But, there is still a part of me that fears it will never come on again. There is still a part of me that's had so much fun that I never want it to end.

If there is anything that brings me comfort as I try to find some rest tonight, it is this: Some things are too good to not bring back every holiday season.

If you've never met my dad, I hope you soon will.

I want you to know the man who is too good to die.


Written immediately following the third surgery


Odd how one can be so full of words when things look so bad. Right now only one word seems appropriate:


It took just a few hours. A doctor who will forever have me in his debt (the insurance company should pay for Dad's end) was able to take care of Dad's aneurysm. The chances of it ever being a problem again are about 1 and 500. I'll take that.

Shortly after surgery, Dad began breathing on his own. That is a good indication he is not going to die.

The tension held for another hour or so as Dad slept off the anesthesia. There was a still a chance the surgery had paralyzed him. There was a chance he couldn't move anything from his nose down.

After an hour of sleeping, a nurse convinced Dad to move all his extremities. That included a thumbs-up on the left hand.

We were able to see Dad for about 10 minutes early this afternoon. He was still pretty zonked out, but we think he heard us when we told him he was going to be okay. We saw the hint of a smile under his oxygen mask.

There is still a very long road ahead. While we have reason to be optimistic today, we still don't know the full extent of his brain damage. The right side of his body is still very weak and will require serious rehabilitation. The left frontal lobe of his brain was also damaged by the aneurysm. That could cause some personality changes.

While we don't know what to expect in the coming months, we now have hope Dad can be rehabilitated to something close to how he used to be. It will just take time to figure out how close he can come. If anybody can succeed, he can. After all, he's made it through three brain surgeries in one and half weeks.

The immediate future will be spent in the NTICU. We're hoping he moves out of there by the weekend. After that, it's anybody's guess. We guess it will likely be a couple of weeks in the hospital, followed by some in-patient rehab, followed by going home. I'm sort of hoping Dad makes it home by my Dec. 4th birthday. It's not an unreasonable hope.

While the immediate threat seems to have passed, the updates will continue here as often as we find time to post them. My hope is that someday soon I can turn over the password to Dad and he can post these updates on his own.

And for all the love, thoughts, and prayers you've all sent out over the past 11 days...we love you all. As I've said before...we plan to spend the rest of our lives showing you how much we appreciate every one of you.

My brother and I are now going to smile our way back to the hospital in hopes of talking to our Dad. At some point we plan to talk about the future.

It's a lot more fun to talk about the future when there's a good chance a future is actually possible.


Written a few hours before I left the month-long vigil at my Dad's bedside

Saying goodbye

My friend called out of the blue one day. I knew he'd been having some troubles of his own, so it sort of touched me that he took the time to call and see how I was handling Dad's third brain surgery. At the time I was recovering from a serious bout of "what in the world have we just been through?" I was none too coherent.

Through the familiar crackle of two cell phones connected across half a country of towers, my friend offered an observation that I had not yet considered.

"I was thinking this morning," he said in a voice I'd heard talk through many a long night and problem, "you've had to say goodbye to your father three times."

I can't remember how or even if I replied. But it touched me that he'd noticed. He'd been there before. I was still learning.

The first time I said goodbye, it was in a sleep-deprived and grief-induced fog that I hardly recall. I was surrounded by faces, many that I hadn't seen in years. I saw my dad's friends, his coworkers, his family. I heard long stories of his greatness. I had not yet found a way to handle the idea that I could soon be planning my dad's funeral. I didn't even excuse myself. I just left and sat on a retaining wall that surrounded the hospital.

The second time I said goodbye, I stood alone beside Dad's unconscious body, my voice barely rising above the beeping of his vital monitors. I forced out each word, determined that I would finally say what I'd spent three decades trying to express. I told him I loved him, then fought the urge to run out of the hospital. I made it as far as the retaining wall again.

The third time, I had developed a numbness. However, with the lack of hard core emotion came a simple resolve that allowed me to believe that Dad actually might survive. That time, Dad was awake. He smiled at me as the nurses rolled him toward the operating room. I still can't believe that I pressed my hand against the window between us in a half wave. It was all too theatrical to be real.

When the ICU waiting room volunteer pulled me aside and whispered that the docs were able to fix the aneurysm, I couldn't contain the smile. I couldn't help but yell across the room to whoever would listen. "They got it!" My mom nearly collapsed in relief, the first time she publicly broke down during the entire ordeal.

A slow calm set in. It was one that said, "Save your goodbyes for another day, young man."

It seems like something that happened when I was a kid, but it was two weeks ago today.

Maybe I wouldn't have thought about the three goodbyes again for a while. Maybe I wouldn't have thought about how hard it is to tell the only male role model and hero of your life goodbye.

Thing is...in nine hours I've got to look my old man in the face and tell him I'm leaving. Two hours later, I'll be on a plane. And a few hours later I'll land in another world, one my Dad barely knows, and one that is too far away to look my Dad in the eye and tell him everything is going to be okay.

I know I've got to go. I know Jeff felt the exact same way when he got on a plane a couple of days ago. We both know we're leaving Dad in great hands. We both know there is little more we can do here but provide a small amount of moral support.

It's still one of the toughest things we've had to do. That is, next to saying goodbye to our dad three times.

Thursday afternoon, Dad will see the real world for the first time since October 19th. As part of his therapy, the therapists are taking him to Barnes and Noble. He'll get to shop around and see something other than a sanitized hospital room or what must seem like a torture chamber-ish therapy gym.

The updates will continue to show up here on this site, so we encourage you to keep reading. But from two sons who will be several hundred miles away, we'd appreciate it if you'd look in on Mom and Dad when you get a chance. Mom is going to do a great job and Dad should recover soon. Still, they could probably use the occasional smile in front of them.

To all the people we've known forever and to all the people we've met in the past four weeks...and to everyone who has been keeping tabs on Dad from afar...we offer our eternal gratitude, endless respect, and undying love.

Somehow...our family just keeps getting bigger and bigger...and somehow Mom and Dad still don't have grandkids.

How about that?


Written a few weeks after the surgery when I finally started believing everything was going to be okay

I suppose if you're not a Willis you might find the following statement a little silly. I mean, even some Willi (that's the plural of Willis, by the way) find it a little silly. Nonetheless, it's proven true quite a few times.

Where there is a Willis, there is a way.

Apparently that axiom is among the many things Dad has not forgotten. Today, he applied it to walking.

That's right. Six hundred feet. The length of two football fields. More than one tenth of a mile.

The stubborn sonofagun walked. No cane. No walker. No shoulder on which to hold.

The guy walked.

Today he saw his house for the first time in a month. Tomorrow he moves back in. He'll sleep in his own bed, under a roof he worked his entire life to have over his head.

I've seen Dad do a number of amazing things in the last 31 days. I didn't actually see this free-walking thing happen. I wish I had. Still, the feeling is unexplainable. It's almost as powerful as the grief we all felt in October.

Grief is an odd thing. Some of us hold it in tight. Some of us let it go. I was reminded of that fact yesterday. It was the first time I'd been on a murder scene since I got back to work.

I was in a poor neighborhood. The cops and the reporters were doing their best to think about things other than the two guys inside the little brown house. Those two guys had bullet holes in their heads.

There were other things to occupy our thoughts. Gallows humor, the chief coping mechanism of cops and journalists worldwide, took over.

Someone spotted the dead dog on the front porch of one house. A taxidermist had done a heckuva job on the mutt. Apart from the obvious rigor that had set in many year earlier and the cob webs hanging off its nose, the dog looked like it was alive and alert.

Then, someone else spotted the dozens of plastic spoons, knives, and forks sticking up from a flower bed. While we were sure the homeowner had a purpose for the dirty cutlery, we joked about her planting a plasticware garden for many a picnic lunch come springtime.

It was an odd neighborhood, indeed, made even stranger by the dead people a few yards away.

The jokes, told in whispers near the fringes of the growing crowd, served their purpose. They kept the cops and reporters from going slowly insane. But no joke could stop the growing level of grief in the crowd. The dead guys had big families. Nothing was going to stop the screams. A photographer snapped this picture as the grief came to its climax.

One woman's face turned into a mask of insanity as she screamed. A man collapsed on the ground like a forgotten toy.

As it always has, the sound turned my stomach. It was made even worse this time by knowing I was very close to having those screams escape my mouth a month ago.

Over the course of the past month, Jeff and I talked about whether this experience might help us or hurt us in our jobs. Whether it would make us more sympathetic or make us unable to deal with what we have to see everyday.

The jury is still out on that one.

But one thing is sure: We know how thankful we should be.

And because we know how thankful we should be...we are.


Now, in 2007, my dad is Dad again. He is also Papa.

In a couple of months, we're going to a Cards game together.

I am among the luckiest people I know.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Referral logs and the grand wonder

I long ago accepted that Rapid Eye Reality would not turn into one of those blogs that get quoted in news stories or become part of of the in crowd. As it started off as a personal diary in 2001, I never really had any hope of blog stardom. Still, I do keep an eye on my referral logs and enjoy modest traffic. One of my daily time killers is checking in on how people run end up here. Further, it's been fun to find that Google has been a source for some old friends to find me.

To wit: Back in the old days, I played in a garage band called The Flaming Puppies. Never a band with any chance at success, it was more a great opportunity for like-minded musicians to gather in basements and make fun music. I recall one instrumental titled Bucking Fackwards that always sounded pretty tight. Alas, as happens with bands good and bad, the trio was more a band of geographical convenience than it was a homogeneous pursuit of a sound. I remember one night in Dan's basement in which I suggested we try to work up a Cracker tune. My fellow musicians snickered, "Crackers." Eventually, for a variety of reasons, most of them of my own stupid doing, the boys found a more talented guitarist and more talented lead singer. And by more talented, I mean they had some talent where I had, well, none. I went to college in a mini-huff, and lost touch with the boys. About six months ago, Dave, the talented bass player, found me by way of this blog and e-mailed me. I'd hoped to see him over the holidays, but for a variety of reasons, was unable to. Nonetheless, it was nice to hear from him and see that he and his wife are doing well.

In another reunion tale, I learned some time ago that a high school girlfriend had been lurking here for a while and eventually started her own blog. Though we'd been good friends in our teens and even communicated some once we both went off to college, we'd completely lost touch over the years. Again, it made me happy to see she'd found her way to an ideal little family life. Even more fun, now that my wife is blogging, my old girlfriend and my wife are now commenting on each other's blogs and sharing advice on motherhood. While some people might find that a little odd, I think it's a pretty good sign that we're pretty balanced people. Or something like that.

I find that many people reach this blog by searching for my name. It used to be something I hid, but since I got out of the "must lead a respectable and moral life" job, I've made little secret of my secret identity. Unfortunately, most of those people who come searching for me rarely let me know they've been here. So, if you do find your way here and we're long lost friends, let me know about it, okay?

Google is a fine little tool. I use it for everything. Dr. Google, for instance, told me just today that I have somehow tweaked my ulnar nerve. I also use it to go in search of people I used to know but have somehow lost in the shuffle of life. Most times, I'm unsuccessful. So, in a half-hearted attempt to find some old friends, here's a list of people who used to be a big part of my life and have now disappeared. On the off-chance they Google themselves (aka, egosurf), maybe they'll find their way here.

Dan Enos from Willard, Missouri
Dan Martin from Willard, MO
Kendra Chappell of Willard High School
Mary Louise Igert of Willard High School
Chris Church of Willard High School
Marcie (Marcy) Welsh from Willard, MO
Damon Swain of Willard High School
Martin Gugel of Willard, MO
Susan Fanter of University of Missouri
Jenny Wiebrand of Willard, MO (Jenny, where did you go?)
Nate Bell, Nixa, MO
Lisa Hoffman, University of MO
Attitude from Laws Hall, Mizzou
Marty Wyatt, Mizzou
John Wright (Wrighteous), Mizzou
Oh, and since I've been a bad friend and lost contact for a year, Brad D., where the hell are you?

Also, if anybody else from the old days is around, shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment here. I get nostalgic sometimes and Google doesn't cut it.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

A head should not be this crowded

I don't write on Sundays. It's not a religious thing, or even a rule. I just typically have no desire nor need to write on this particular day. What's more, most people don't read blogs on Sunday, so it's pretty worthless to bother posting anything. So, why am I loading up RER today? I dunno. I guess my head is a crowded mess and I don't have any other way to purge. The thing is, I don't even feel like telling a story and it feels pretty presumptuous to just dump this mess on you without some kind of payback.

So, maybe I just won't.

It can't be all that important anyway.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: What Antonella Barba and I have in common

Antonella Barba, at a glance, is a pixie. She's the girl from your home room class that is pretty and knows it, but doesn't act like it. She's the girl that your mother believes would be a good girl to ask to the Homecoming dance. What mom doesn't know is that Antonella Barba likes to get half naked on war memorials and go topless with her girlie friends. You know, the kind of stuff that makes her more the girl you'd like to date and the kind of girl your mom wishes would develop a bad coke habit and end up in Internet reality porn.

Well, now she is one of the unfortunate members of the American Idol legacy who will be remembered more for her "talent" than her talent. I'm no fan either way, nor will I admit actually watching American Idol. Regardless, it's all got me thinking about the unlikely (read: never gonna happen) event I become some sort of 14-minute celebrity. I'm fairly certain there are no half-naked pictures of me out there, save the one my friends published in the University of Missouri student newspaper The Maneater as a birthday prank. Video, however, is another issue. I've tried to go back in my memory and think about existing embarrassing video tape. Here's the list:

* I'm sitting in a dorm room in Laws Hall at University of Missouri. I'm drinking from a 40 oz. bottle, pretending to smoke a dart (yes, an actual dart that you would throw at a dart board), and telling the story of my friend Marty's pet eel that died after jumping out of an aquarium. (Humiliation level: Low)

* I'm in a suburban neighborhood and serving as the master of ceremonies over a footrace. This race takes place after dark and in front of a crowd of very intoxicated people. (Humiliation level: Low)

* I'm hosting Bradoween and pretending to speak for the hibiscus bushes in my back yard. (Humiliation level: Medium)

* I'm hosting some other party and singing Rocketman. (Humiliation level: Off the charts)

* I'm hosting some other party and dancing with a friend's wife. (Humiliation level: Medium)

* I'm at Al Can't Hang's Bash at the Boathouse. I'm impaired. I'm standing in a crowd and talking to a friend who also happens to be the wife of another friend. I threaten to--but, mercifully do not--expose myself for the benefit of the crowd. (Humiliation level: High)

* I'm in a diner at the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas. I've been playing Pai Gow poker and earning a "free" meal of steak and eggs. Pauly offers me $400 if I'll eat two of the Keno crayons sitting on the table. Without thinking about it, I do it. When asked what it tastes like, I respond creatively, "Crayons." (Humiliation level: Low)

That list was a lot shorter in my head than it came out here. Such are the dangers of a misspent youth and liberal attitudes on malted hops and barley. Fortunately, only one of those videos has appeared on the internet and, apart from the mild embarrassment at being stopped in public and asked "Hey, are you the guy that ate the crayons?" it's not been that bad. I'm not sure who is in control of the video from college, but the rest are in the hands of people I trust not to humiliate me or sell me out.


For some reason, I've been thinking about 2003 a lot recently. I'm not sure why, exactly. Nothing in particular stood out, other than March of 2003 was about the last time my life was exactly...I dunno...normal. On this Friday, I decided to take a look back at March four years ago.

On March 10, 2003, I wrote this:

It's hard to write this without seeming falsely modest or overly boastful. So, I'll leave it at this: I won an award. People tell me its pretty important. I don't know how much of that is true, but from what I can tell, Peter Jennings won it in 2000 and Ted Koppel won it in 2001.

That was the beginning of the end of my career in traditional journalism.

Six days later, I, for the first--and thankfully only--time, completely blacked out and severely injured myself. The doctors called it orthostatic hypotension. I called it one big hole in my face and my bottom lip nearly being ripped off.

It is sort of easy to let ourselves forget that in March of 2003, we sent our country to war. Now, it's easy for me to say we're involved in one of the ugliest blunders of our country's history. In 2003, I think there was a part of me that saw it coming. As I sat nursing my busted face, I wrote about the pending Iraq war:

I'm wondering if my tete-a-tete with the carpet knocked more than my lower face astray. As hard as I try (and believe me, I'm trying) I can get neither excited nor worried about the possibility of war, retaliation, victory, or defeat. It just doesn't seem real.

There comes a great burden with being the world's only superpower. I figure a healthy part of that burden is knowing when to go and when to stay home. I don't have that answer.

A man of thought (as I like to consider myself) should have some opinion or feeling about his country leading a charge to war. I feel incredibly shallow for feeling very little in the way of anxiety or patriotic fervor.

Perhaps when my as-yet unconceived child turns 20, there will be no need for war.

That's a nice thought. But, I'm sure when my dad's buddies were stuck in Vietnam 30 years ago, he was probably saying the same thing about his as-yet unconceived child's potential world.

On March 19th, as it all started, I had false hope, writing:

Outside my window, the wind screams like an air raid siren. Lightning flashes in the sky. Thunder rumbles in the distance. At times, the entire house sounds like it will implode on itself. It is the first real storm of South Carolina spring.

On my TV set, Peter Arnett is watching the skies over Iraq. The President's spokesman just announced our nation's leader will speak to the country and world in about ten minutes.

It seems the rumbles, flashes, and wails will not be limited to my little mountain in the Blue Ridge foothills.

May both storms pass quickly.

Just a few days later, I was writing about people who were dying in Iraq. Rather than quote the whole thing here, I'll just link to it. It's not fantastic writing, but I think it was around the last time my head and heart felt young.


That year aged me more than any year previous or since. My dad's near-death and unlikely survival, the realization I was going to be a father, and the everything else started turning me into someone that I had never been. For the most part, I can admit I have matured and benefited from what I experience that year. Still, I can't help but miss that young part of my soul, that part that lived in stupid bliss and rarely felt those twinges of true regret.

I wonder if I'm right in thinking our country has aged past its years, too.


So, maybe that's a little too heavy to end the week.

Try this. Sometimes things, in the face of all logic, just work out. Like when you're falling from 12,000 feet and your parachute doesn't work.

Yeah, sometimes things turn out okay.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Goals? We don't need no stinkin' goals

So, I wasn't going to live up to my promise to report back on February by the Numbers. Failure is a bitch. Fortunately, it wasn't failure across the board. Nonetheless, I didn't do as well as I hoped. The first two weeks went really well on all fronts. Then, as usual, some things happened, I started slipping, and the end of the month was pretty much the equivalent of a blown tire on the interestate. But, for fear of breaking one more promise to myself, here are the results of my month of self improvement.

I guess I should note, all of these goals were aimed at two ends. I wanted to be healthier and I wanted to spend more quality time with my family.



Days taking a 30 minute walk (12)--FAIL--Yeah, that didn't happen at all. In the first couple of weeks, the weather didn't allow for it. By the time the weather got nice, I was pretty discouraged by the project as a whole.

Pounds lost (7)--FAIL-- This was supposed to just be a nice byproduct of all the other goals. I wanted to drop down to around 167, a weight at which I feel really comfortable. I may have lost a couple of pounds, but it was nothing to write home about.

Days not drinking (26) --FAIL -- Part of the little gut I've been putting on is due to the frequency at which I have a couple of beers. While I think I was intoxicated maybe one night in February, I had drinks on more than the four days I allowed myself. Empty calories abounded. Hence, failure.

Number of nights I go to bed before 1am (14) -- FAIL -- I got pretty close with this one. Early in the month, I racked up a number of early-to-bed nights. Then, as things got uglier, so did the insomnia, etc.


Days cooking a meal (10) -- PASS -- I knocked this one out of the park. I got my cooking groove back and cooked up some damned fine food in the month of February. I aimed for ten meals. I think I probably did 15 or so. I had only one failed meal along the way (show me to cook with rice noodles!), but the rest turned out pretty well.

Number of movies watched with my wife (6) -- FAILED -- Another one where I got pretty damned close. I think, in the end, we ended up watching an average of one movie per week. Here's what we did end up watching (with maybe onee missing...I forget):

Little Miss Sunshine (about time somebody wrote a decent comedy)
The Matador (that was really unfortunate)
Snakes on a Plane (the reason cult films have to be seen before the become cult films)
The Departed (no damned wonder why it won best pictre...holy cow, what a great flick)

Number of days I take my kid for father and son bonding time (4) -- No pass or fail on this one, because I changed it almost immediately after posting it. Instead of focusing just on father-son time, I decided to focus on family group outings. On that front, I think I did really well.


Days posting to a blog (25) --PASS-- This was aimed at making me write more. It did.

Books finished (3)--FAILED--This was aimed at making me read more. While I finished "The Making of a Chef" and almost finished "Dogrun," I didn't read nearly as much as I wanted. Fortunately, I'm going to have a lot more reading time this month and hope to make a dent in the stack of ten books I have ready to read.


Haircuts (0)
Days shaving (0)

This entire section was based on the false premise that I would make myself look like hell for a month, and as such, focus more on bettering myself. By week 2, I looked like a homeless person and resumed normal hygeine.


Days Not Going To Live Poker Games (24)--FAILED--It wasn't that I didn't want to go out to live poker games. It was simply that the more of them I went to, the less time I spent at home with the family. In the end, I did okay, hitting only six games out of 28 days. Frankly, I think I hamstrung myself a little with this one.

I've decided to redact the final two goals for a couple of reasons. Number one, you wouldn't care anyway. Number two...well, that's for me to know. Suffice it to say, I failed on the meaningless one and succeeded on the important one.


And so that is that. I'm embarassed to hit publish, but I'm going to. Yeah, that's it.


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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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